Where Romans and Galatians Meet: Analysis by Mark Nanos

Mark NanosBut when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14 (NASB)

Table-fellowship, particularly in the context of gentile participation, was a significant concern among Diaspora Jews. The many laws and customs that made it necessary generally to separate from association in gentile meals, or from the eating of many gentile foods whether in the company of gentiles or not, made table-fellowship a notable issue. Jews often avoided meat and wine, for it was necessarily tainted by idolatry in Diaspora cities, unless special provisions had been made. However, Jews did eat with gentiles, given proper circumstances. And in the context of “righteous gentiles” attending synagogue this matter became a regular necessity.

Gentiles attending synagogue and participating in the lifestyle of the Jewish community, or visiting Jewish homes, were expected to adopt minimal Jewish practices. This behavior demonstrated respect not only for Jewish sensitivities, but in the mind of the Jews at least, it represented respect for the righteousness of God that would be expected to accompany the faith of the “righteous gentile” — for God is holy.

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 2: The Historical Backdrop and Implied Audience,” pg 56
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

No, I haven’t stopped reading this book, but the demands on my discretionary time plus the dense commentary in the Nanos book have slowed me down considerably. I just finished Chapter 2 (as I write this) but decided to take a detour into “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7).” Given my lengthy and sometimes frustrating review of the Book of Galatians with my Pastor, I felt it necessary to get in some additional reading beyond Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach (although it seems my conversations on Galatians have reached a premature end).

I must admit, I too have had a difficult time fitting “Peter’s hypocrisy” and Paul’s criticism into my overall understanding of Paul’s relationship with the Torah as a Jew and an Apostle of Messiah. In a little over thirty pages though, Nanos managed to clear things up for me. It never occurred to me to look at that passage from the point of view Nanos presents.

In the first part of Appendix 1, Nanos reviews the traditional interpretation of Galatians 2:11-21, that Peter had been living like a Gentile, that is, not observing a Torah or Jewish lifestyle and eating all manner of non-kosher food at the same table as the Gentile disciples in Antioch. Then Torah observant Jews from James came to visit, and as a result of peer pressure, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles and resumed a Torah lifestyle, inducing others including Barnabas to do likewise. Paul calls Peter out for his hypocrisy, that he could live a Torah-free life with the Gentiles one minute, and then, weakening to pressure applied by more traditional Jews, back off from his “freedom” from Torah and rejoin the “circumcision party.”

But Paul says something else in verse 14:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

The Mystery of RomansWe tend to miss that part of the verse but it may hold the key to understanding everything Paul is saying about Peter.

But first, lets take a look at how Nanos describes a mixed Jewish/Gentile synagogue in the city of Rome:

That is, the early Roman Christian communities were functioning as subgroups within the larger synagogue communities at the time of Paul’s letter, and Paul hoped that they would hear (shema) his epideictic message in a manner that would enhance their adherence to righteousness and the worship of the One God of Israel as the One God of the world even before his arrival. They would then be found fulfilling the eschatological expectation of Israel: gentiles declaring the Shema in the midst of the congregation of Israel to the glory of God, the One God of all.

-Nanos, “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7),” pg 338

Nanos paints a portrait of Jews and Gentiles worshiping within a subset of larger Judaism and the larger Jewish synagogue community in Rome, with Jewish believers continuing to live Jewish lifestyles, including Torah observance, and Gentile believers living in respect of the Torah lifestyle of their Jewish mentors, and living within the behavioral constructs of the Noahide laws (Genesis 9) and the Apostolic Decrees (Acts 15). They enjoyed table fellowship with the Gentiles either consuming food totally acceptable to the Jewish believers or with the Jews restricting their diet to vegetables and water while sharing a table with gentiles.

So what’s Peter’s problem or for that matter, Paul’s? In the context of Galatians 2 not only does Paul say that Peter is living like a Gentile, but it is implied that Paul is too. Did both of these Jewish men apostate from Judaism and convert to Gentile Christianity? Like much of Christian doctrine teaches, did Christ turn Jewish believers into Gentiles?

The argument of the Church is that the disagreement is about food, that is, Peter was eating “trief” like a Gentile, having abandoned a kosher diet and presumably everything else about the Law. How like the misunderstandings most Christians have about Acts 10 and Peter’s vision. Was that about food, too?

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

Acts 10:34 (NASB)

peters-vision-doug-jaquesPeter’s vision is recorded by Luke in verses 9-16 and verse 17 testifies that Peter did not know what the vision meant. We see that Peter finally figured it out by verse 34. The vision wasn’t about food, it was about equality. God was telling Peter that the Gentiles had equal access to justification before God through faith, just as the Jews have. He even testifies of that equality in a legal hearing in Jerusalem some time later (See Paul on Trial by John W. Mauck for more detailed information about the nature of the legal hearing in Acts 15):

And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.

Acts 15:8-9 (NASB)

On pages 342-3 of his appendix, Nanos says this about the Church and Galatians 2:

The traditional assumption is of course that Paul opposed Peter in Antioch because of Peter’s change of behavior with respect to food.

But just as food wasn’t the issue in Acts 10, neither is it the issue in Galatians 2 according to Nanos.

Nanos goes on to say that if the traditional Christian interpretation of these verses is correct, then Paul had to have been saying there are no Jews in Christ, because to set aside the Law and live like Gentiles would make the Jewish believers no longer Jews. There would be only Gentiles (born Gentiles and formerly Jewish Gentiles) in Christ.

This contradicts the Bible on so many different levels it makes my head spin (although even an apostate Jew is still Jewish…you can’t become “unJewish”). You’d have to completely ignore all of the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to make that interpretation work.

As already mentioned, the traditional interpretation of Paul’s rebuke of Peter turns on the issue of food. Although the balance of the letter is read with respect to the issue of justification by faith in Christ, and the explicit use of justification language in Galatians is concentrated around this incident, yet the traditional interpretation obscures the focus on justification in verse 14. I suggest that the language of Paul’s rebuke centers on the same justification language as the surrounding context, namely the position of one justified, that is, living “in Christ” by faith, whether “Jews by nature” (“even we” of 2:16) or “gentile sinners,” as equals. It is thus Peter’s withdrawal, not food, that is at issue in Antioch; what was eaten or how it was eaten was not the reason for Peter’s withdrawal. The issue entirely concerned those with whom he had been eating and then withdrawn; his exclusion of gentiles was because they were gentiles, not because they ate offensive food or in offensive ways.

-Nanos, pp 347-8

Apostle-Paul-PreachesGalatians 3:28 famously declares that there are no Greeks or Jews, no men or women, no slaves or freemen, but all of them are one in Christ. But just as women don’t have to turn into men to become saved in Messiah, neither do Gentiles have to turn into Jews or Jews turn into Gentiles to become disciples of Messiah. The “oneness” is as equal co-participants in the community with equal access to justification and the blessings of God.

What Peter was doing was indeed responding to peer pressure and as a result withdrawing from close association from the Gentile disciples, but it had nothing to do with Peter’s eating habits or Jewish vs. Gentile lifestyle. His hypocrisy had to do with accepting Gentiles as co-participants previously, and then treating them like second-class citizens by withdrawing from them when Jews from James showed up.

The issue of Galatians 2:11-21 was the same issue as the rest of the book of Galatians: Gentiles do not have to become circumcised and convert to Judaism, taking on board the full yoke of Torah in order to be justified before God and equal co-participants in the community of faith. Look at verse 14 again:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was putting up the dividing wall that Paul was trying so hard to break down by saying Jews had a superior position in Christ and in justification and that only by compelling the Gentile disciples to live like Jews (convert to Judaism) would they be saved, undoing all of the blessings of Christ upon the world.

No wonder Paul was furious. Peter just slapped him and all of the Gentile disciples in the face by his withdrawal and worse, he compelled other faithful Jewish disciples, including Barnabas, to do the same.

Nanos wrote this appendix because of the apparent conflict, especially in light of his interpretation of Romans, between Romans 7 and Galatians 2. I’m only summarizing what he has to say. To get all of the details, you’ll need to read the Nanos book.

In Romans, Paul is encouraging Torah observance for the Jewish believers and respectfulness for the Torah and for Jewish observance from the Gentiles. However, much of Galatians, including Galatians 2, seems to contradict this. Nanos wrote this summary and appendix to set the record straight, or at least to give his readers something to think about.

Hopefully, this has given some of my readers something to think about as well.

7 thoughts on “Where Romans and Galatians Meet: Analysis by Mark Nanos”

  1. “The “oneness” is as equal co-participants in the community with equal access to justification and the blessings”

    Yes! And when we (Jews and Gentiles) “get” that, it’s gonna be amazing to see each fulfill their respective callings!

  2. It’s the “getting it” that we all struggle with. How a single body can be united and yet diverse, with each element in the body having a different and unique calling and yet serving a larger overall goal is something we have a hard time with. And yet, the metaphor of a human body, which Paul used, explains it very simply.

  3. ‘They enjoyed table fellowship with the Gentiles either consuming food totally acceptable to the Jewish believers or with the Jews restricting their diet to vegetables and water while sharing a table with gentiles.’

    With regard to table fellowship, I found it very enlightening when a friend of mine suggested reading Romans 14 alongside tractate Avodah Zarah in the Talmud.

  4. “Nanos wrote this appendix because of the apparent conflict…”

    He also wrote it and many of the footnotes in The Mystery of Romans (I would say all footnotes of which are essential reading, at LEAST were when that was his only book out) because he was planning to write a complimenting book on the letter to the Galatians, as he said somewhere in these areas of extra and indispensable commentary — and had started on the work. Hmm; didn’t know there’s a “large print” edition:
    Ah-hah! I see your review there, James.

  5. Thanks.

    I hope “they” (Amazon) fix the small automatic photo (the one that’s showing up for the large print edition). The line below that names it, with a link, does take one to the right book though.

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